Mary Phillips knows all too well that her background is not unique among her peers. She knows, too, that the coaching business is not among the most secure, especially among girls teams.

But Phillips' story is a little different. For against almost any opponent the Spartans face this year, Phillips has some history. Odds are, she might have even coached there.

And if Laurel is playing Bladensburg, she knows she will likely see members of the Mustangs' track team she coached to a county championship last spring. They will be the same athletes she will likely coach against this winter in the indoor track season.

And against whom her Laurel volleyball team will play this fall.

But Phillips says she sees them all as athletes, not in a them-vs.-us mentality. "There is a real camaraderie," she said. "Not too many people see me as stepping on any toes."

Coaching volleyball still remains a bit new despite her extensive background in other sports. "Just because I'm in physical education doesn't make me a wonder," said Phillips, who also coaches track at both Laurel and Bladensburg, depending on the season. "When I took the volleyball job last year, I went to the George Washington camp and sat through it watching the athletes training. That helped me tremendously."

The result was a 13-1 season for Laurel and a tie with Bowie for the county championship. The regional playoffs were not as successful for Laurel, but Phillips learned, anyway.

"We got blown away," she said frankly. "We went beforehand and watched the others team play. And we wrote down all the weaknesses that we could attack. But the team tried to play all those weaknesses, instead of establishing our game first."

She vowed the plan would be different this year, and thus far the strategy has paid off. Laurel, with seniors Renee Burnett, Debby Curtis, Nancy Dyer, Diane Wiberson, Michelle Spillman and Hasun Yik, defeated the same Bowie team that gave the Spartans their only regular-season loss a year ago in come-from-behind fashion, 2-15, 16-14, 15-11.

But the Bulldogs are still as strong as they were a year ago. Joy Anders, Chris Hewitt, Chris Kennedy, Mary Carpenter and Dana Menningen return to key the attack for Barbara Green's squad, which figures to contend for the title once again.

"We lost five seniors, but I couldn't have asked for a better team," Green said. "The girls are much smaller, so I'm hoping we'll get by on good skills . . . They played very well under pressure."

Green almost didn't make it back to head the Lions, having been the victim of a staff reduction. Only other personnel moves at the school kept her in the coaching field. "It takes a lot out of you," she said. "I say I'm going to quit, but there is always someone who says, 'Wait until I leave.' So, you find yourself staying in the coaching business."